Thursday, December 13, 2012

Caffe D'Arte

Caffe D’arte is a Seattle based company that roasts its own coffee and has several retail locations throughout the Pacific Northwest.  It was started by an Italian family in the 1980s with the goal of duplicating styles from northern, central and southern Italy.  “Firenze,” which they say is in the northern roasting style, is D’arte’s lightest roast.  It is a bit darker than the beans coming from Portland's local microroasters.   I like its balanced flavor, and it yields amazing crema, but it does not have the citrus/nut/sweet notes found in some of the other beans I have written about here.  They also have an alderwood roasted bean that I am curious to try.

                                                  Their store on NE 15th Avenue between Broadway and Weidler has a bit of multi-unit retail aesthetic that values consistency over personality, and a couple of flat screen televisions in the corners are always turned on (why do bars and restaurants increasingly do this?  It's out of place everywhere but a sports bar.).  But there are a few reasons I keep returning here.  First, it’s walking distance from my home.  Second, the people are unfailingly nice; and, even though the store is part of a (small) chain, it has the feeling of a family run business.  Third, they sell a pound of well roasted and reasonably fresh coffee beans for about the same price that you would pay for twelve ounces of a “gourmet” brand in a supermarket.  And, you get a free coffee drink when you buy that pound.

But the true reason I Like Caffe D’Arte is the way they serve an espresso: long white plate, with cup, spoon, chocolate(!) and water all in a line.  The shot is pulled on a big Nuova Simonelli, which does a fine job.  Espresso is made with the Firenze roast.  The attention to detail never fails to put a smile on my face.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Public Domain

Located just a block north of Pioneer Courthouse Square, Public Domain is a great place to soak in the downtown vibe.  Bright, clean space? check.  Downtempo Bonobo drifting gently from the built in ceiling speakers?  Check.  Guy with braided beard and face painted purple chilling at a corner table listening to headphones?  Check.

Maybe surprisingly, Public Domain is owned by Coffee Bean International.  CBI is a long time Portland roaster more known in the wholesale realm than in the kind of bespoke craft coffee market that Public Domain targets.  That said, I've met a roaster or two from CBI over the years, and they are very serious about good coffee.

Public Domain offers the coffee fanatic choices.  If you are ordering an espresso, you get your choice of beans.  I indulged my weakness for yirgacheffe.  Of course, a number of coffee shops offer a bean choice.  What lets you know you are in the company of the truly obsessed is that Public Domain offers a choice of espresso machines from whence the shot will be pulled: either a Slayer or a Synesso.  Both are, well, bad ass.  I asked the barista which he preferred.  He said that the Slayer is fun for experimenting, but the Synesso is better for high volume production.

My shot, pulled on the Synesso, came in the usefully thick brown ceramic demitasse that is nearly ubiquitous at serious coffee shops around town.  Like Public Domain itself, it was bright and clean, with a hint of wildness incongruously lurking in the corner.  Definitely one of the better shots available downtown.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Case Study downtown pop up

While waiting in downtown Portland for the Max light rail train, I looked across the street and saw this:

I was drawn like a moth to a flame.  It turned out that it was a "pop up" in a retail space that was being built out for a new tenant.  The tiny kiosk was set up in a doorway; and, just a few feet beyond the barista, there was nothing but bare studs and work lights.  What  really made this jarring was the espresso machine: a Kees van der Westen Speedster.   Among the truly espresso obsessed, this is equivalent to, say, seeing a Lamborghini  Countach drive by your house.  Not an everyday occurrence.

The Speedster is, along with a few other machines, on the leading edge of espresso technology.  It is really set apart, though, by its striking aesthetics.  Below is a photo of the Speedster at Case Study; but the lighting, the camera and my photography skills really do not do it justice.

Although I had already had four double espressos that day (intensive blog research!), I was unable to resist the siren song of the Speedster.  The friendly and knowledgeable barista pulled me a very ristretto shot of a medium roasted bean that was complex, slightly citrusy and sweet.  I paid the jangly fried nerve price later, but, for that moment, I understood why the Speedster has earned its reputation as one of the premiere espresso machines.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Maglia Rosa

Maglia Rosa is an espresso kiosk located inside West End Bikes.  The kiosk's name is Italian for the "pink jersey," which is awarded to the rider with the lowest aggregate time in Italy's premier bike race, the Giro d'Italia.  West End Bikes is in downtown Portland, and is an excellent place to go if you feel the need to spend $6,000 on a bike.  Maglia Rosa's pleasures are similarly stratospheric in quality, but much more affordable.

Using a fully tricked out LaMarzocco, the barista pulls exquisite shots.  Single origin only, from Stumptown Roasters.  The attention to detail is remarkable.  I commented on the perfection, and the barista's reaction implied that this was a matter of course and nothing else would be acceptable or even possible.  She generously shared her knowledge and I loved her intensity.  I later discovered that Maglia Rosa is owned by United States Barista Champion, Phuong Tran.

In a town where the quest for the very best coffee can seem close to blood sport, Maglia Rosa is a contender.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Water Avenue Coffee

I love my city; I really do.  However, I occasionally encounter something so preposterously Portland that I'm not sure whether to chuckle or cringe.  Such was the case when not one, but two, gentlemen were lounging on Water Avenue Coffee's comfortable sofas in their bicycle helmets.  Chin straps buckled.  You are unlikely to find many fashion tips in this blog, but here is one: it's hard to pull off wearing a helmet inside.  I am guessing Brad Pitt would never have been cast in Fight Club if he'd ever been seen wearing a helmet inside.  On the other hand, I am often wrong in matters of fashion, and it's undeniable that, in the event of a major earthquake or nuclear attack, the guys in the helmets will have the last laugh.

And, judging by the twenty or so bikes parked outside on that same morning, two wheels are apparently the best way to arrive at Water Avenue.  It's hip in a very hip neighborhood that includes Hair of the Dog, Bunk Bar, ClarkLewis and Boke Bowl.  Inside, it's warm and cozy in an underfinished industrial way, and they are pulling superb espresso shots (I recall them making that espresso on a Synesso machine, but their website prominently features a high tech Nuova Simonelli).  Pastries and sandwiches looked tasty.  The staff is friendly and casual.

Water Avenue's signature blend, which is used at several other great coffee places around town, is called El Toro.  It's described on their website as "dark chocolate, sweet peanut butter, bright cherry, woodsy."  I had some trouble finding the peanut butter, but there is definitely a nice cherry flavor, and the coffee finishes with a citrusy sweetness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ristretto Roasters on North Williams

I was at Ristretto Roasters yesterday and noticed the barista really putting her body weight into tamping an espresso shot.  Among coffee geeks, this kind of thing is controversial.  Some insist that the coffee should be no more than lightly tamped.  The "consensus" is that one should tamp with about 25 to 30 pounds of downward pressure (you can even buy a tamper that has a built in device for measuring exactly 30 pounds of pressure).  So one might see a nerdy eyebrow or two raised about the Ristretto barista's tamping gusto. But any critics would be silenced by the resulting shot: nutty aroma and big caramel malt flavors with impressive mouthfeel.

They do not actually roast at this particular Ristretto Roasters; that is done at another of their handful of locations.  Like many small roasters in Portland, Ristretto's focus is on medium roasts, while apparently eschewing the black-oily french and italians that once seemed to define gourmet coffee.  Their Beaumont Blend is a good choice when making espresso at home, but they also have an ever changing selection of single origin beans.

This store is a personal favorite.  The staff is knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic about coffee minutia.  The space may be a little too clean, and every customer  (I mean every single one!) seems to be on a Mac Powerbook.  That's balanced, though, by the ragged voices of  Bob Dylan and Tom Waits on the stereo.   The store also has an impressively huge four head espresso machines with naked portafilters.  And who can resist that?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Heart Roasters

Is it possible to be too serious about coffee?  The first time I visited this roastery and cafe located at 2211 East Burnside, I observed one of the staff doing a pour-over.  She had a look on her face not unlike a lab technician extracting a newly discovered cancer cure from a DNA helix.  She spent what seemed like an eternity oh-so-slowly pouring hot water over perfectly ground and measured coffee.  When the pour-over was finished, she deeply inhaled the resulting coffee's aroma.  Then she walked away and came back a minute later to once again inhale with zen-like focus.  Another minute passed, and she inhaled again.  I never saw her take a drink.  Maybe she never did.

All that seriousness apparently pays off, because Heart makes really good coffee.  And the space they offer for drinking it will appeal to those who favor a clean retro-modern aesthetic.  It's a bit hard to describe, but their custom colored (and gorgeous) espresso machine offers some clues:

The baristas take their time getting the best out of this machine, which features gauges and paddles for each group to precisely control pressure and water flow.

Not all of the machines make coffee at Heart.  They also have a 1970's stereo with real speakers playing interesting music at listening (rather than background) volume.  There's even a turntable, but it seems to be used mostly as a place to rest iPods.
If you order an espresso, you will have your choice of a couple single origin beans.  The Kenyan I had on a recent visit was deep and raisiny.  A double shot is $3, which seems at the north end of reasonable, and looks something like this:

It will be delicious, and the perfect thing to sweep the cobwebs from a foggy brain on a rainy afternoon.